As the UK lockdown is gradually lifting, businesses are starting to bring their employees back into the workplace. However, things are going to be a bit different to how they were at the start of the year. As an employer, it's your job to make sure that your workplace is COVID-secure. To help guide you through the process, we've put together the following list of pointers and tips.

 

Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

Businesses are already required to carry our risk assessments to ensure their staff are safe at work. But with COVID-19, there are a whole host of additional dangers to look out for. Before you start bringing employees back into the workplace, you should therefore carry out a focused COVID-19 risk assessment. We'll be running through most of the main things to consider in the rest of this post. Generally speaking, though, you'll want to follow a few key points.

First of all, think about what situations might arise which could increase the risk of transmitting coronavirus from one person to another. This includes not only being in close proximity to someone for a long period of time, but also touching shared objects without cleaning them between uses. Consider the individual setup of your office when listing these.

Next, examine which members of staff are most at risk. Naturally, anyone who has to work especially closely with other people has a heightened chance of spreading COVID-19. But you should also bear in mind those who could get seriously ill if they contract coronavirus. This includes older people, and especially those with underlying health conditions. In some cases, it may be safest to let these employees continue working from home if possible. Otherwise, you should see if there are any extra steps you can implement to keep them extra-safe.

You can find out more about what to include in your COVID-19 risk assessment here.

 

Communication is key

Maintaining a safe office safe will only work if everyone is on the same page. That's why you should keep your staff fully informed not just when they come back to work, but throughout the planning process, too. If they understand exactly why you're making these decisions, there's less risk of them dismissing safety precautions as just red tape that they don't really need to stick to. Don't just tell them what you want to do, either- instead, make them an active part of the planning process. This can be useful in helping you identify changes that would be tricky to manage in practise, as well as highlighting anything you might have missed.

Talking to employees can also help to assuage any worries they might have about returning to the office. After spending so long in lockdown, it's understandable that some people will be nervous about returning to normal life again. Make time for one-to-one calls with anyone who might need them, and take on board what they have to say. It's likely that others who don't bring this issue up will also be feeling the same, so it pays to listen and implement any suggestions they have.

Coronavirus Communication

Social distancing

The most effective way of reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 is social distancing. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise- it's become a part of everyday life during the pandemic. Wherever possible, staff should keep at least two metres apart. Understandably, that's not always going to be possible in some workplaces. If you can't keep to two metres, then you should instead try to maintain a one-metre distance as much as possible. This still gives you enough space to, for instance, pass things between each other in a warehouse, and is still more effective than not socially distancing at all.

Social distancing is about more than just sitting apart, though. To be effective, it needs to be applied throughout the entire working day. That means only one person going up or down a flight of stairs at a time, one person allowed to use kitchen facilities at a time, and so on. The same thing goes for toilets, too- if there's a queue, then make sure whoever's in there has space to leave without needing to push past anyone.

 

Keep things clear

Even those with the best intentions might accidentally forget to follow some of the safety measures you put in place. After all, when we're doing things that we do everyday, there's a tendency to go on autopilot. To help keep everyone on track, put up signs in key places to remind them of what they need to do to keep safe. For instance, signs at the top and bottom of staircases will remind people to only use them when they are clear. In the kitchen, pop a sticker above the kettle to prompt staff to wipe down equipment before and after use.

Social Distancing Signs

Put an end to sharing equipment

A lot of offices tend to share equipment between staff, depending on who needs it at any given time. With things like stationary, it's easy enough to buy in bulk so everyone has their own. But for other equipment like headsets or phone handsets, many businesses will just let staff share depending on who needs to use them. Since these are used in close proximity to your mouth, there's a much greater risk of infection being passed from these.

Cleaning them between uses is an option, but it's far simpler and safer to invest in enough equipment to go around. Cordless business phones can accommodate up to six handsets per base, which should be plenty for most offices. If you use a PBX system, then a corded headset is a cost-effective solution, but there are plenty of wireless models that won't break the bank, either.

 

Have hand sanitiser and wipes available

The importance of cleaning your hands regularly during the pandemic can't be overstated. Not only does it stop you from picking up COVID-19 yourself, but it's also vital to prevent spreading it to other people. A hand sanitiser dispenser at the door to the office will ensure that everyone is keeping their hands clean throughout the day. You should also ensure that there are antibacterial wipes available, particularly in kitchen areas, so that people can clean equipment before and after use.

Coronavirus Hand Sanitizer

Time things right

Finally, it's worth considering whether it's really necessary to bring everyone back into the office full-time right away. Most businesses have been running just fine with everyone working from home. While things are still up in the air, it might make sense to let some people continue to work from home if their role allows it. This will make a big difference in smaller offices, since it will allow for more social distancing. Alternatively, if people would otherwise be working in close proximity, you could have them come into the office on alternating days, and work from home the other days.